Honesty the best policy for presidential hopefuls, according to primary study

March 09, 2000

A presidential primary study by University of Cincinnati communication professor Judith Trent finds that, for the first time since she began studying the presidential primaries in 1988, Americans rate "honesty" as the most important characteristic they seek in a presidential candidate.

"I think this is obviously a reaction to a wide variety of factors, including Clinton's impeachment problems, public concerns over campaign finance reform, negative advertising and candidate assertions regarding their personal integrity," said Trent. She bases her conclusions on a survey of the public and media that her team of researchers conducted in New Hampshire in the last days before the state's primary this year. Her previous studies occurred in 1988, 1992, and 1996.

Her team found that across gender and age lines, both the public and the media agree that honesty is the No. 1 characteristic for the ideal candidate. In the last three presidential elections, the most desirable quality the public and the media sought in a presidential candidate was the ability to "talk about the nation's problems," according to Trent's earlier studies.

But for the public and the media this year, that desire has become less important. Trent argues that this may indicate America's general sense of economic confidence. "With no perceived economic or military threat, it may be that voters are focusing on issues of personal character."

Trent also found that in keeping with 1996, the public continues to believe that high moral integrity is the third most important presidential characteristic.

For the first time this year, Trent asked about party affiliation. For both the media and the public, it ranked near the bottom of the list. The public ranked it No. 11, and the media ranked it 10.
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University of Cincinnati

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